Hookers vs. Chasers: How Not to Begin an Essay

Student Essays We Never Finished Reading

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Author Stephen King at the Apple Store on Prince Street in New York City (June 3, 2013). (Jim Spellman/WireImage/Getty Images)

When was the last time you ran across a really good hooker?

That's Stephen King's term for a particularly enticing opening sentence in a story or essay—a "knock-you-dead first line" that compels you to keep reading. In "Great Hookers I Have Known," King says that an effective hooker-sentence offers readers "the pleasure of instant gratification" (Secret Windows, 2000).

The opposite of a hooker might be called a chaser—a bore-you-to-death introduction that drives readers away.

At best, a chaser may hint at delayed gratification. More often it provides little more than an excuse to stop reading.

Examples of the Worst Kinds of Essay Opening Lines

Here are 10 examples of such boring or baffling opening lines—chasers that you'll want to avoid when composing your own essays. The examples are in italics, and the explanations are in bold.

  1. According to my dictionary . . .
    Avoid leads [or ledes] that quote Webster's—"the Jim Belushi of openings," according to Annie Edison in Community. "It accomplishes nothing, but everyone keeps on using it."
  2. When you gave us this assignment to "describe in detail a place you know well," my first thought was to write about my bedroom closet. . . .
    As a general rule, avoid openings that comment on the writing assignment itself.
  3. One dark and stormy night, the ghost of General Oglethorpe grabbed me by the goolies and hurled me down the castle stairs. . . .
    Don't strain too hard to shock or amaze, especially if you can't maintain that level of excitement.
  1. Sometimes you've got to stick your neck out on a limb and keep your nose to the grindstone. . . .
    Avoid clichés and mixed metaphors.
  2. In this essay, after giving the subject a lot of thought, I am going to write about . . ..
    Skip the announcements.
  3. "Life is like a box of chocolates," my Mama used to say, quoting Forrest Gump. . . .
    Don't get too cute.
  1. Your mama has terrible opinions on essay writing . . .
    Don't get belligerent.
  2. Framed fantastically against the expansive cerulean sky was a soaring wedge of gossiping, gabbling geese, a shimmering cocaine-colored V haloed in sunlight and dusted with the durable dreams of earthbound warriors . . ..
    Avoid excessive alliteration, needless modifiers, and Roget's Thesaurus.
  3. Wikipedia says . . .
    Challenge questionable facts and steer clear of dubious sources.
  4. It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an alms.* . . .
    No matter what else you do, never plagiarize.
     

* This is the opening sentence of Jonathan Swift's satirical essay "A Modest Proposal."

Now it's time to take a more positive approach. For examples of fresh and compelling opening lines—that is, some truly good hookers—see these two articles:

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Nordquist, Richard. "Hookers vs. Chasers: How Not to Begin an Essay." ThoughtCo, Jan. 8, 2018, thoughtco.com/how-not-to-begin-an-essay-1690494. Nordquist, Richard. (2018, January 8). Hookers vs. Chasers: How Not to Begin an Essay. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-not-to-begin-an-essay-1690494 Nordquist, Richard. "Hookers vs. Chasers: How Not to Begin an Essay." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-not-to-begin-an-essay-1690494 (accessed May 23, 2018).